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WQDY Is 55 - Jul. 04, 2014

CALAIS, Maine -- As the USA celebrates another birthday, WQDY Radio marks its 55th year serving Washington County, Maine and Charlotte County, New Brunswick.

Here's some history:

WQDY Radio first began broadcasting at 1230 AM to Washington County Maine and Charlotte County, New Brunswick on July 4, 1959.

John Vondell and John Foster established the station in 1959. By November 1964, the station had been sold to Robert Smith, "Buffalo Bob Smith" of Howdy Doody fame.

[Publicity picture of Howdy Doody with "Buffalo Bob" Smith]

Smith also had a summer home on Big Lake in Grand Lake Stream. Dan Hollingdale, who started at the station several months after it originally began, rose through the ranks to become station manager under Smith who in 1967, added WHOU in Houlton and WMKR in Millinocket.

Hollingdale supervised all three stations for Smith, traveling the triangle from Calais to Houlton to Millinocket.

Eventually, Hollingdale would buy the station from Smith in 1978.

The sign of the times

WQDY FM came along in the mid 70's.

In 1995, WQDY began simulcasting on WALZ 95.3 FM in Machias.

24-7 operation began in 1996 on both WQDY-FM and WALZ-FM when the stations were sold to Mike Goodine and Bill McVicar.

Goodine had been station manager under Hollingdale. McVicar began his career at the station in 1986 as an account executive and play-by-play announcer. In 1998, McVicar, Goodine and partner Roger Holst purchased WALZ-FM in Machias. In 2001, McVicar and Holst took over ownership.

In 2003, WCRQ 102.9 FM was acquired from Citadel Broadcasting and became a part of the WQDY Inc. family of stations. WQDY AM signed off.

This is home!

WQDY still broadcasts from the same studio location as it did when it first signed on. The address was 281 Main Street, but because of enhanced-911, many streets in the city of Calais were re-numbered. We have never moved but our current address is now 637 Main Street.

WQDY-FM and WALZ-FM simulcast as "Classic Hits 92.7 - 95.3." WCRQ is "Border 102.9."

And we are still locally-owned.

So there's some written history --- and if you live in our listening area you'll be hearing some bits and pieces of our past from 5 a.m. to noon on Friday July 4 as well as a story in our local morning newscasts at 5:30, 6:30, 7:05 and 8:05. Old barbershop-style singing WQDY jingles, one-time WQDY owner, Robert "Buffalo Bob" Smith on Rotary Radio Days and his old commercial for Schooner beer, and other things out of our past.  

During our existence, WQDY had been an affiliate of NBC and CBS as well as AP Network News. We were also part of the Yankee Network -- "News while it is news, the Yankee Network News Service on the air!"

Pat McLaughlin [no relation to Tom McLaughlin] came by our studios in 2009 when we marked our 50th birthday to see what was new. Pat was one of our original employees - from July 1959.

Former owner Dan Hollingdale also came by and it was a reunion. The two men hadn't seen each other since around 1960.

[Pat McLaughlin and Dan Hollingdale at WQDY in 2009]

Then came the stories -- the recollections from the beginnings of WQDY Radio from someone who was there at the beginning [Pat] and someone who was there six months later in 1960 [Dan]. Here are a few:

In the beginning:

Pat recalled when John Vondell got the license for an AM station in Calais, Maine.

"So he came up [from New Hampshire with partner John Foster]. He was able to buy an old 250-watt transmitter. It was pretty bad. And an old tower -- as I remember when they installed the tower, the guys [installers] said it was a piece of junk. They weren't very happy about putting it up. But we got it going," Pat said.

He rigged up a studio with some really old broadcasting equipment -- an old console, a couple of turntables and "an Ampex tape recorder." Dan said he thought the Ampex was "still around."

"We did a lot of testing to see how far we were transmitting." [1230 kHz]

The first record played was "The Battle of New Orleans" by Johnny Horton.

"We played the living daylights out of that one," Pat chuckled.

Dan recalled that when WQDY went on the air July 4, 1959, he was working for M.H. Fishmans, a store in Calais.

"I was just out of the service on a training program and I heard you on the air. Someone pointed you out to me one day and I said that lucky son of a gun - working in a radio station like that. Never thought I'd ever get the chance to do the same thing," Dan said.

WQDY Executive Staff in the 1960s: Gene Townsend, sales manager; Bill Casey, office manager; "Buffalo Bob" Smith, owner; Dan Hollingdale, station manager; Don Clarke, announcer.

Dan started working at WQDY in 1960, managed the station for Bob Smith when he purchased the station in 1964. Eventually, Dan bought the station from Smith in 1978 and sold it to Bill McVicar and Mike Goodine in 1996.

WQDY  has carried the Boston Red Sox continuously for 55 years!

"Without that, we were dead in the water," Pat explained. "People have to have their Red Sox baseball!"

"We were also an NBC off-air affiliate and I rigged up an antenna on top of the barn out here where we could pick up WLBZ Bangor. They were NBC," Pat said.

And sometimes there were reception problems Dan recalled as he provided a fine example. "Here's the windup and the pitch ---ZZZZZZZZZZ."

"We did our best," Pat said adding "WQDY's first winter was rough."

Who knew?

"We were able to get beer commercials because we were on their fringe area. [Beer commercials were going to television in Bangor] Television wasn't being received here very good so we were able to get beer commercials," Pat said.

"And we were able to get every high school basketball game we could and we got commercial sponsors like Georgia-Pacific, Eastern Maine Electric Co-op and Ganong's. That's how we survived the first winter," Pat said.

Joe Healy gets the interview with Guy Lombardo as told by Dan Hollingdale

"One of my fondest recollections was with J.J. Healy -- Joe Healy. He lived in Milltown, New Brunswick. He and I worked together for years," Dan said. And his favorite Joe Healy story?

"One day Joe heard that Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians were going through to Canada and so Joe calls up Guy Lombardo's manager for an interview."

The manager said they had no time to stop for an interview explaining they had to go right through St. Stephen.

"So J.J. goes over to Canadian Customs and he says -- as you know Guy Lombardo is coming through here. Now there's been a lot of problem with musicians drinking booze and whatever. You might want to check out the bus pretty good when it comes in," Dan related.

"Son of a gun, Canadian Customs pulled the bus over in St. Stephen. They were going to be there for an hour and a half. So Joe goes up to Guy Lombardo and says, Look, I'm Joe Healy from the local radio station -- would you consider letting us interview you?"

Lombardo said he was going to be there for an hour and a half --- and he said "sure" so both Dan and Joe interviewed Guy Lombardo.

"He never knew the difference," Dan said.

This is who we are now....

STORY/PICTURES: Tom McLaughlin, WQDY-WALZ News Director -